Random thoughts on being an independent country

It’s been 65 years since India got its administrative independence. From a country being governed by the British, we became a country governed by our own. Looking at it cynically, from a country being looted by the foreigners, we became a country being looted by the indigenous.

This year it has been a semi-drought condition in the country and lots of news channels have repeatedly been showing images of semi-naked, emaciated, old or middle-aged farmers squatting on a parched, cracked piece of land, covering their eyes from the glare of the sun, hopelessly looking at the cloudless sky with their lifeless eyes. I told my wife, “These images were representative of an average Indian back in the 17th century, the 18th-century, the 19th century, the 20th century, and scarily, even now, in 2012, and scarier, even after 50 years, we will have these same images being attributed to an average Indian.”

We are still dying of hunger after 65 years. Garibi hatao still remains a political slogan and there is no collective embarrassment over this. People still eat poisonous roots because they cannot find proper food. There are more malnutritioned children in India than in sub Saharan Africa. According to World Bank, in 2011 32.7% people in India live below the international standard of poverty line, incidentally, which is much higher compared to our own planning commission that says that in order to qualify as a person living below the poverty line you should be unable to spend Rs. 27 per day. The international standard says it should be $ 1.25, roughly that is Rs. 70 according to current exchange rate.

India is a vast country. There are hundreds of ethnic groups that don’t seem to be able to relate to each other. Even in 2012, Karunanidhi is again trying to rake up the issue of a separate Eelam for the Tamils. We have countless languages and dialects. The caste system has kept our population perpetually divided. Our Malthusian population growth has ensured a cornucopia of scarcities no matter how much the country produces (despite the government). Within the first decade of our independence the Congress — the main ruling party — started indulging in politics of casteism and communalism that later permeated every aspect of body polity. Economic growth, social morality, public well-being, food security and education have never been at the forefront of the national consciousness. We can kill and die for religion and caste, but not for schools, hospitals and roads. So yes, conventionally speaking, many of these problems can be termed as insurmountable. Some would even say, despite these problems, we have come a long way.

Surely we have. Despite daily episodes of road rage, staggering corruption, near-absent infrastructure, collapsing moral values, twisted consumerism and an inveterate acrimony towards our fellow countrymen and women, we have come a long way. When India got independence, the world had no hope for the country, at least when it came to democracy. The experts predicted that the country would soon be balkanized. Maintaining a sense of democracy wouldn’t be possible over such a diverse demography that is perpetually in the grip of turmoil and hostility. In that sense, we have had successive elections, given a few exceptions here and there, massive booth capturing and poll rigging and all. Democracy has survived in India for the past 65 years and this is a big feat.

Fortunately for India, the people of the country have shown exceptional survival skills despite being ruled by perhaps among the most corrupt politicians and administrators in the world. You can also call it serendipity. The historical turn of events took such a shape that it was possible to make more money maintaining the semblance of democracy rather than turning despotic. Anyway, talking about the people. Whatever progress you see around you, can be attributed to 2 things: the law of probability and survival instinct.

We have a huge population in the country so all those people who have experienced success and prosperity can attribute much of their fortune to the sheer number. Our complete social fabric and administrative system is quite chaotic. Drive your vehicle on the road for a couple of hours and you will know what I’m talking about. Some of us survive and prosper simply because we are too many to be obliterated.

Survival instinct is the second attribute. A big chunk of our population, majorly coming from Hinduism, had been under various foreign rules for more than 1000 years. It must have been really crushing. Nonetheless it survived. Any other religion and population would have perished long ago. We Indians haven’t. No matter how pathetic our living conditions are, we go on living, and miraculously, we survive, propagate, and many of us, even prosper. So despite the fundamental image of India remaining that of a hopeless farmer squatting on a cracked piece of land waiting for the gods to show some mercy on him, some of us have used whatever scant opportunities have come our ways.

What’s been lacking? Why has India been so miserable all these years? Why after attaining independence we couldn’t even become a IInd world country, if not first world? What the heck went wrong?

I’m not a scholar, but my common sense says, as I do more and more reading, our founding Fathers invested very little in human development, purposely or inadvertently. Dynastic politics has ensured that no competent politicians can come at the helm of affairs right from the days of Jawahar Lal Nehru. They built monumental dams and nationalised behemoths but ignored the intellect. We had a very large population that was backward and illiterate. It needed to be educated. The imperialistic system of education needed to be abandoned in the favour of more holistic, purposeful education system. For more than 1000 years we had been under various foreign rules and that had taken a big toll on our intellectual growth and moral bearings. Everything was about day-to-day survival – looking at the skies for rains and trying to avoid crossing paths with social and political bullies. This is not a conducive environment for growth.

As a nation, we are not a proud people, and it shows through our jingoism and misplaced nationalism. As I have already said, we can kill and die for religion and caste, but not for schools, hospitals, and roads. Election after election we vote for corrupt and degraded politicians simply because they belong to our religion or caste. We don’t judge people by the work they do but by the religion or caste they belong to. In fact the moral depression has been so deep-rooted that people start making fun of people who actually want to do something constructive for the country. Spend some time on Twitter to get a taste of this moral depression and inferiority complex.

We got independence from the British in 1947 but we never got independence from our ignorance, indifference, backwardness and political immaturity. Over the millennium we became lazy and timid and our benchmarks became mediocre. We never got independence from our religious and caste biases. We have been a hodgepodge of ideologies and cultural idiosyncrasies, never truly becoming a nation. In order to become a nation we need to be proud of ourselves. We need to have a collective vision. And this vision needs to be among the masses, and not exclusively among politicians, intellectuals and think tanks. The day we decide that we need to have a collective vision, and then collectively start working towards it, we will be truly independent.